International - 20.12.2016

Cities show more solidarity than nation states – Mayor’s summit in Vatican City

Dr Peter Kurz participated in a Mayor’s summit on refugee policy in Vatican City on invitation of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Mayors from 71 cities amongst them ten European capitals (Berlin, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Warsaw, Lisbon, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin)  met in Vatican City for a conference titled “Refugees Are Our Brothers and Sisters” on invitation of Pope Franziskus.

Mayor Dr Peter Kurz was impressed by the achievements of even small Italian municipalities whilst others refuse their support, but also by the clear statements of Spanish or Polish cities for example which underlined their willingness to back a more balanced distribution of refugees in Europe unlike their national governments. “Many colleagues whose cities are on the Mediterranean have personal experiences of the dramatic situations happening there”, Dr Kurz reported his impressions.

In his speech Mayor Dr Kurz emphasised the importance of cities in resolving global problems and their right to appropriate means of action. In addition he outlined how Mannheim masters immigration and maintains diversity and solidarity within the urban community simultaneously.
He referred to the position of his colleagues and said:” Europe and its values are endangered by nationalisms and Mayors are discernibly those who back European values.

Mannheim as a city of diversity

Dr Kurz presented Mannheim as a city of diversity and arrival. He explained the challenges of immigration from Eastern Europe and described how the city, pre-eminently with the work of volunteers, managed the intermittent high influx of refugees. He also referred to the topic of interreligiosity and how Mannheim’s religious communities practice an interreligious dialogue (examples: forum of religions, mile of religions). He described Mannheim’s alliance for living together in diversity which is meanwhile a coalition of 180 institutions advocating jointly an appreciation of diversity contrary to discrimination and reinforcing it with concrete activities. “In so doing the migrants living in our city have proven themselves to be important bridge builders and cultural mediators”, the Mayor explained. In this context he postulated the demand that the acceptance of solidary politics grounded on ethics had to be restored, otherwise politics and society would be damaged in the long run.

First of all inequality has to be fought against in a credible and serious manner. Refugee policy cannot be looked at detached from questions of a political and economic world order. From his concrete experiences with migration the Mayor derived seven demands and recommendations which were met with a positive response:

The aid for people, especially in the adjacent states (like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon) needs to be substantially and credibly expanded. Cities can and should be recognised as genuine developmental agents and be appropriately endowed with finances for projects. He proposed the foundation a European-wide initiative in which 500 European cities support the same number of cities in Northern Africa and the Middle East with concrete EU-funded developmental partnerships in the areas of administration, public services and economic promotion. This type of aid would not only be durable and tangible, it would also change the awareness within the European “Aiding Cities”.

The cohesion in our societies must be encouraged through encounters in order to generate solidarity, especially encounters between groups who would otherwise avoid each other.

“Integration succeeds or fails in cities” the Mayor said. That is why the establishment of parameters for integration means establishment of parameters in cities. “The migrational impact on communities varies and they need a substantial and purposeful support which leaves them sufficient liberty to choose suitable solutions.”

Integration can only succeed when a feeling of belonging occurs. Generation of contempt for migrants either caused by fear of populism or by populists impedes integration for decades.

A system of contingents for persons accredited with a refugee status and secure corridors leading out of conflict areas must be established.

Europe must offer transparent opportunities for legal immigration beyond asylum and refugee status.

Integration efforts should not be connected to the legal status. National governments are often not capable of enforcing re-transitions. The legal consequence of this equals exclusion from systems of integration. However, this is an indirect assault on the functioning of an urban society.

Especially around the set of problems dealing with refugees, national egotisms led to an incapability of finding solidary solutions in Europe. Cities repeatedly presented themselves as actors taking responsibility and striving for solutions. The European Union but also its member states should use and boost the potential of cities and appreciate them on eye level as equal partners.

Demand for a conference on the topics escape and migration

The Mayor suggested asking the European Commission and the Council of the European Union to follow the Pope’s line and consult the cities for new refugee politics. He succeeded with his proposal to canvass for a stronger involvement of cities within the European Union. On behalf of almost 20 cities like Paris, Barcelona, Florence, Berlin and Mannheim the city of Brussels will call on the European Union and the Council to invite (500) cities and initiatives for a conference to discuss the topics migration and escape. “The conference and the exchange with colleagues were very valuable, even though the personal meeting with Pope Franziskus was unfortunately cancelled at short notice. If we succeed in engaging in a dialogue directly with the European Commission or the Council of the European Union, sharing our experience and knowledge of these topics, then the conference would be a major achievement, concluded Dr Kurz.